Italy’s Camila Giorgi falls in Wimbledon’s round of 16

Camila Giorgi, an Italian Jewish player, lost in her upset bid to reach Wimbledon’s quarterfinals.

Giorgi, 20, who coming into the prestigious tournament was ranked 145th in the world, was beaten by Poland’s third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-2, 6-3, on Monday in London.

Giorgi had won six matches to reach the round of 16, including a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory over 20th-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia and an upset of 16th-seeded Flavia Pennetta, also of Italy.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Chronicle reported that the Israeli Tennis Federation may offer Giorgi $100,000 to immigrate to Israel in return for 30 percent of her prize money during the next few years. Her father, Sergio, reportedly is negotiating the terms of the deal with the federation.

For Italian Jewish sports fans, it was another setback after Italy’s loss the previous day in the Euro 12 soccer championship game. Mario Balotelli, the foster son of an Italian Jewish mother, was shut down in the 4-0 loss to Spain after scoring both of Italy’s goals in a 2-1 upset over Germany in the semifinals.

Opinion: The lessons of the Beren accommodation

On the morning of Feb. 28, 2012, Alyza Lewin of the law firm Lewin & Lewin invited me to participate in a conference call to discuss a burgeoning controversy involving the basketball team of the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish School in Houston, Texas.  Alyza and her father, the venerated constitutional lawyer Nathan Lewin, had been informed the preceding evening by Etan Mirwis, whose son is the Beren team captain, that Beren was on the verge of forfeiting eligibility for a Texas state championship slotted to be played over the upcoming Shabbat.  In 2009, I had enlisted the Lewins’ help to secure a scheduling accommodation for members of the mock trial team at the Maimonides School of Brookline, Mass., to participate in the National High School Mock Trial Championship (NHSMTC).  The Beren situation would mirror the Maimonides experience in many ways, with the Lewins ultimately instituting legal action that enabled the Beren basketball players to be accommodated.

Many are proud that Beren competed, but the school publicly declared opposition to the legal action.  In 2009, Maimonides was also against a legal challenge.  In other words, both schools thought it inappropriate to pursue a forceful response, preferring only to make respectful requests but not to demand an accommodation.  Both schools recognized that, without the legal option, the students would not participate because the associations administering the competitions would not alter schedules — even minimally — unless ordered to do so.  The schools were, nonetheless, content, proud that their students had been taught to sacrifice for a worthy principle.  Although the students had worked hard and rightfully deserved to compete, the schools reasoned that forfeiting was a noble act of kiddush HaShem (sanctifying God’s name), accentuating that nothing — certainly not a game or competition — should compromise Shabbat.

In both situations, however, the parents spearheading the accommodation campaigns focused as well on an additional value. Like Mirwis’ tireless efforts at galvanizing support for Beren, it was the father of the Maimonides team captain, Dr. Jeffrey Kosowsky, who spent countless hours energizing interest in the Maimonides story.  Both Mirwis and Kosowsky, successful graduates of well-regarded Modern Orthodox schools, deemed it imperative not just that the students appreciate Shabbat’s sanctity but that they internalize the lesson of inclusiveness fundamental to this country’s purpose.

Mirwis and Kosowsky appreciated that others outside the Jewish community had been affected by the discriminatory policies and that change would be effected only through a forceful challenge. The mock trial controversy was a multiyear battle resulting in states, such as New Jersey and North Carolina, withdrawing from the national competition precisely because the national organization formally voted not to accommodate Saturday Sabbath observance.  Consequently, for a number of years, no school in those states — Jewish or otherwise — could compete in the national championship.  Because of the Lewin & Lewin legal strategy, not only did Maimonides compete, but the NHSMTC organization ultimately reversed its policy to allow for scheduling changes, and New Jersey and North Carolina rejoined the competition.

Likewise, it was not just Beren or Jewish schools that were harmed by the intractable no-accommodation stance of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS).  The Burton Adventist Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school, was excluded from competing in the TAPPS basketball championship three times because of Saturday Sabbath observance.  The former Burton players and coaches remained disappointed, wondering what could have been had they been able to compete.  They encouraged Beren to challenge TAPPS and were even willing to join a lawsuit. Mirwis would celebrate Beren’s semi-final win in the TAPPS championship while sitting together with new friends from the Burton Academy.  And it is Mirwis who is most eager to help TAPPS in the future adopt an accommodation policy.  TAPPS has, in fact, now issued a statement, seeking such assistance and acknowledging that: “[o]ur state is becoming more diverse.  Because of that, we are reaching out to leaders around the state.  We want to listen to hear their concerns, and most of all to hear their ideas.” 

While Beren, Maimonides and other Modern Orthodox schools are right in emphasizing to students that religious observance necessarily involves sacrifice, we may be doing our children a disservice if we do not responsibly challenge discriminatory behavior that only we have the opportunity to fix.  In both the Beren and Maimonides cases, there was no compelling reason for NHSMTC and TAPPS not to accommodate, and the accommodations did not affect the competition or other contestants.  Indeed, in both, other teams were amenable to the accommodations.  Our children must appreciate that they are fully a part of an inclusive society, one that values their contributions and skills and that needs them to speak up when an imperfection must be rectified.  It is not being pushy or unbecoming to demand that this great country benefit from the wisdom and talents of all its citizens; it is a civic duty to press the case.

In the early-morning hours of Feb. 29, 2012, as Beren resigned itself to forfeiting its rightful place in the TAPPS championship, I sent an e-mail to a friend, who is also a leading Beren administrator, encouraging the school to accept the Lewins’ guidance.  I wrote:  “As a lawyer, I can tell you that legal proceedings are serious business and deciding whether to pursue them should not be taken lightly.  But I can also tell you that sometimes legal proceedings are necessary, sometimes they right a wrong.”  I added: “Yes, we are proud and principled Jews.  But we are also proud and principled Americans and our boys and girls must understand that, where there is no compromise of religious observance at stake, they can and should participate in American society.  If you do not challenge, you teach them a lesson that they are not fully American and do not have the same rights as other citizens.  That would be a tragedy.”

Of course, there was no tragedy, only great joy.  The Beren basketball players, some who are likely to become leaders in our community, savored the blessings of living in a country that wants them to realize their promise and potential while staying true to their personal religious beliefs.

Daniel D. Edelman is a lawyer in New York City.

Orthodox team advances to Texas state championship game

After grabbing national headlines with its push for a pre-Shabbat starting time, the Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston registered a decisive 58-46 win over Dallas Covenant to secure a spot in the 2A private and parochial boys basketball state championship game.

Junior sensation Zach Yoshor led the Beren Stars with 24 points.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, known as TAPPS,originally ruled that the game would be played at its original 9 p.m. start time—after the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Beren, a Modern Orthodox school, would have opted to forefit without a change in the schedule.

But TAPPS reversed itself just hours after the announcement that the team captain, along with teammates and parents, had enlisted the support of prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin and filed a lawsuit against the association; the lawsuit also named the Mansfield Independent School District, whose facilities are hosting the semifinals and finals of the 2A tournament.

The championship game was originally set for 2 p.m. Saturday, which also conflicts with the Sabbath. But the game will now be played at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. (The game can be watched online at

“We are thankful to the TAPPS for ultimately making the right decision,” the Beren Academy said in a statement Thursday. “The school administration and board was not involved in any legal action, and we regret that it took a lawsuit filed [by] parents to bring about this decision.”

TAPPS in a statement posted on its website Wednesday had said that when the Beren Academy met with the association’s board in 2009 to discuss membership, it was told that tournament games are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, and that the school’s athletic director said he “understood” and “did not see a problem.”

Beren’s plight made international headlines this week and garnered support from several public figures, including the mayor of Houston, the former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). The team, which with a 24-5 record is playing the best basketball in its history, had earned a spot in the state semifinals last week with a 27-point victory in the quarterfinals.

The 2A category includes schools with enrollments of 55 to 120 students.

View Park ends Valley Torah’s state championship run

Nathaniel Liberman played through muscle cramps in both legs on Thursday night, but he couldn’t overcome them. And neither could Valley Torah overcome a fourth-quarter comeback by View Park, falling 69-68, as the Knights slayed the Wolfpack’s hopes of a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division 5 state championship in the quarterfinal round on March 10.

Valley Torah won the Southern Section Division 6AA championship on March 5, making it the first Jewish school to win the CIF title. The Wolfpack went on to a 58-50 win over Calvin Christian of Escondido in the first round of the statewide CIF Division 5 basketball tournament at Los Angeles Valley College on March 8.

On Thursday, 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Nathaniel Liberman, usually in the 6-foot-9 shadow of older brother Aaron, emerged as the future of this Valley Torah team, scoring 18 points—all but two in the first half.

“Thank God my shot was falling and it put us up,” said Nathaniel Liberman, whose first four shots fell from three-point range. He fell to the court clutching his left leg with just over a minute left in the third quarter, and valiantly returned halfway through the fourth quarter after receiving treatment on the sideline. He was back only a minute before his right leg gave out.

“I tried to maybe get another shot in, keep us up, but my legs couldn’t take it,” he said.

Natanel Tzion led the Wolfpack with 20 points, Aaron Liberman contributed 16 points while constantly double-teamed under the basket and Yosef Grundman added 13.

“I let my team down the last two games, so I wanted to come out here and show the fans, my team, my coaches, that I am who I am, that I can lead, that I can score,” said Tzion, who had been held to a combined six points in Valley Torah’s previous two games.

Junior guard Sheldon Wright scored a game-high 31 points for View Park, 25 of which came in the second half.

“The kids [from Valley Torah] are tremendous. They played up today,” said Don Turner, the Knights’ first-year coach. “We just got a little more lucky at the end. That was really the only difference.”

With 1:36 on the clock, Grundman slapped his hands against the floor, symbolic of locking down on defense. Valley Torah then proceeded to give up consecutive perimeter shots by the Knights’ Wright, who single-handedly sparked View Park’s return from 14 points behind.

“We were one or two plays away from the win,” Valley Torah coach Robert Icart said. “We just got caught up in this emotional ride.”

After Aaron Liberman picked up a controversial fourth foul with 4.6 seconds left, Wright made both free throws to go ahead by one. Grundman took the ensuing inbounds pass, driving down the court while heavily guarded and putting up a desperation shot. The senior center was there for the potential winning tip, but mistimed the jump.

But critical turnovers and missed free throws were the real difference.

Aaron Liberman missed all four first-half free throws, though he hit five of six in the second half. Grundman missed a free throw on the Wolfpack’s second-last possession after completing a three-point play on the previous possession.

“We had high expectations. We played our hearts out, and we came up short, but we’ll hold our heads up high,” Tzion said. “We made history.”

Valley Torah finishes its historic season with 25 wins against 5 losses; though its season isn’t over quite yet.

In two weeks the Wolfpack will travel to New York to compete in the 20th annual Red Sarachek Tournament at the Yeshiva University against other elite Jewish schools from across the country.

“We’re going to regroup,” Icart said. “The YU championship was in the plan, in God’s plan and in our plan.

“We built something bigger than basketball. We built a sense of pride. We’ve accomplished a lot and we still have something more to accomplish.”

And Nathaniel Liberman is looking forward to building on this season next year.

“I’m going to take this loss, focus my anger and sadness, and hopefully I can take next year’s team farther,” he said.